December 30, 2003

Solving Conflict of Interest Problems, the John Ashcroft Way

According to, well, pretty much all the news sources, Attorney General John Ashcroft will recuse himself from the investigation into who leaked the name of a covert CIA operative to Robert Novak (and a host of other journalists, apparently) in July.

Justice Department #2 James Comey said: "The attorney general in an abundance of caution believed that his recusal was appropriate based on the totality of the circumstances and the facts and evidence developed at this stage of the investigation."

Heading up the investigation now is a new special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, US Attorney for Chicago. All well and good, great that this conflict of interest has been dealt with, maybe these people aren't the rank criminals they present themselves as, right? Wrong. Patrick J. Fitzgerald was appointed on September 19, 2001 by George W. Bush and approved on October 23, 2001 by the Senate.

Ashcroft is a Bush appointee who recused himself because of possible conflicts of interest. Fitzgerald is also a Bush appointee. How is this less of a conflict?

I'm not trying to impugn Fitzgerald in any way. All I know of him I got from Google. But really, if the point is to put in a special prosecutor who can be impartial, do you go with the guy who was appointed by the president being investigated?

Another excellent flub and shady deal, brought to you by President George W. Bush.

Posted by shamanic at 3:04 PM

Krugman Nails It Again

Paul Krugman nails it again in today's New York Times. In Our So-Called Boom he analyzes where this sudden excess of profit is going, noting that,

"It was a merry Christmas for Sharper Image and Neiman Marcus, which reported big sales increases over last year's holiday season. It was considerably less cheery at Wal-Mart and other low-priced chains. We don't know the final sales figures yet, but it's clear that high-end stores did very well, while stores catering to middle- and low-income families achieved only modest gains.

"Based on these reports, you may be tempted to speculate that the economic recovery is an exclusive party, and most people weren't invited. You'd be right."

He finds that while the economy is adding jobs, it's only doing so at a rate of about 90,000 a month, well under the 150,000 that would be needed merely to keep up with the expanding workforce, and certainly much lower than the astonishing 225,000 jobs added per month during the Clinton years.

It's almost hard to believe those numbers now, like the 1990's were some kind of Fairy Land that America had inadvertently traipsed into. My generation is going to turn into that annoying grandparent or great-aunt that goes on and on about how good it was back in the day.

But of course, if things stay on present course, children may pine to hear stories of the good old days when young people could pull down $35,000 a year with nothing more than a basic knowledge of computers.

Krugman:

"But if the number of jobs isn't rising much, aren't workers at least earning more? You may have thought so. After all, companies have been able to increase output without hiring more workers, thanks to the rapidly rising output per worker. (Yes, that's a tautology.) Historically, higher productivity has translated into rising wages. But not this time: thanks to a weak labor market, employers have felt no pressure to share productivity gains. Calculations by the Economic Policy Institute show real wages for most workers flat or falling even as the economy expands."

So is Krugman just a naysayer? Are we getting on the right track while he insists impatiently that we aren't quite on the right track yet? Is it possible that when Bush talks about the need to focus on the deficit in a second term, he's not kidding?

Posted by shamanic at 10:54 AM

December 20, 2003

Krugman, Again

Paul Krugman says goodbye to Horatio Alger and other myths of American social mobility in this month's The Nation.

He begins: The other day I found myself reading a leftist rag that made outrageous claims about America. It said that we are becoming a society in which the poor tend to stay poor, no matter how hard they work; in which sons are much more likely to inherit the socioeconomic status of their father than they were a generation ago.

The name of the leftist rag? Business Week, which published an article titled "Waking Up From the American Dream." The article summarizes recent research showing that social mobility in the United States (which was never as high as legend had it) has declined considerably over the past few decades. If you put that research together with other research that shows a drastic increase in income and wealth inequality, you reach an uncomfortable conclusion: America looks more and more like a class-ridden society.

And guess what? Our political leaders are doing everything they can to fortify class inequality, while denouncing anyone who complains--or even points out what is happening--as a practitioner of "class warfare."

He goes on to lay out some stats about income distribution and social mobility that are exactly the kind of thing that makes this 20-something wonder just what happened to America?

In trying to counter his arguments, I had a few major thoughts. He states: A classic 1978 survey found that among adult men whose fathers were in the bottom 25 percent of the population as ranked by social and economic status, 23 percent had made it into the top 25 percent. In other words, during the first thirty years or so after World War II, the American dream of upward mobility was a real experience for many people.

Now for the shocker: The Business Week piece cites a new survey of today's adult men, which finds that this number has dropped to only 10 percent. That is, over the past generation upward mobility has fallen drastically.

My counter argument involved the possibility that most of those who could move, had already moved. Or, put another way, there was previously so much upward mobility that the rate was bound to slow down.

But then I found the following graph from the University of Chicago.

As you can see, it indicates that since 1959, America's poverty curve has moved in the right direction. This may be part of the explanation for less upward mobility, there are simply fewer people (12% now compared to 22% or so in 1959) in the category that would need to move upwards.

On it's face, I find my argument to be flawed and somewhat silly, but I'm trying here. Notice that the number of people in poverty had its most recent peak around 1992 and then dropped precipitously until around 1998.

Well, here's the kicker in Krugman's article, the thing that really makes me think that there is no hope until we arrive at serious regime change and a very, very angry populace here at home:

According to estimates by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez--confirmed by data from the Congressional Budget Office--between 1973 and 2000 the average real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers actually fell by 7 percent. Meanwhile, the income of the top 1 percent rose by 148 percent, the income of the top 0.1 percent rose by 343 percent and the income of the top 0.01 percent rose 599 percent. (Those numbers exclude capital gains, so they're not an artifact of the stock-market bubble.) The distribution of income in the United States has gone right back to Gilded Age levels of inequality.

This is America? This is a problem.

Posted by shamanic at 12:05 PM

December 18, 2003

Finally, Checks and Balances

After three years without checks and balances, a federal appeals court has just reinstated them.

That's right, according to the Washington Post, "The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, said the administration has no inherent constitutional power to sidestep the normal procedures required to imprison a U.S. citizen seized on American soil.

"It also rejected the government's claim that it possessed legislative authority to lock up Padilla by virtue of the congressional joint resolution authorizing the war against Iraq."

But maybe there is reason to worry about Jose Padilla. Here's a bit of conspiracy theory, or at least the theory that the FBI routinely bungles investigations:

Do you see any resemblance here? On the right, we have Jose Padilla, arrested in May 2002 at O'Hare airport and held as a material witness, then as an enemy combatant. He has been incommunicado as an al-Qaeda operative since July 2002 in a Naval brig in Charleston, SC.

On the left, we have "John Doe #2", the mysteriously disappearing suspect of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred E. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, OK.

Padilla is thought to have been hatching plan to detonate a "dirty bomb" in the United States and to have met with al-Qaeda operatives overseas prior to his arrival at O'Hare.

Why might we think he was involved in bomb plots?

Well, all that aside, it's good news that a branch of government has begun to rein in the executive branch. I'm not prone to thinking that my rights are being systematically stripped away, but even I had begun to worry. In a nation we didn't like so much, like Iraq for instance, we would refer to someone in Jose Padilla's position as having "disappeared" and point to that government as having commited human rights abuses.

Thank you, 2nd Circuit. You've done a service to America, but let your colleagues know that the work isn't done yet. Inspector General Glenn A. Fine of the Justice Department has found hundreds of hours of videotaped footage showing prison guards beating 9/11 detainees.

I would like to see those tapes. I can't find any images through Google, but really, we just invaded a country which used brutal repression against political enemies. What does this constitute?

Here's an audiolink to an NPR program I listened to last night. Mississippi Becomes a Democracy tells the story of African Americans forcing white society to let them vote and let them take part in the political process. This is often brutal and wholly compelling, and it makes you wonder where we've found this leg that we stand on when we wag our fingers at other nations.

Posted by shamanic at 2:28 PM

One Doctor's Story

So here's an email that I just got, a forward from a wider list, and I have to wonder how representative this is of the frustrations of being in medicine right now:

I'm retiring next May. My patients start to have a fit, demand to know why,
I reply 'because I can' and they understand that perfectly. I've become a
part of some families lives. I haven't kept a work journal but reasons to
get the hell out continue to pile up; I am reaching a point where I would
rather flip burgers than deal w/ insurance companies. Had two demands yest
to 'justify' prescriptions to BlueCross. Last week they wrote me a letter
and said they'd approve a prescription IF I sent them supporting medical
literature. They even specified what sort of journal it had to come from.

That guy is an insulin dependent diabetic who exercises, doesn't smoke or
drink, maintains a good weight, is working and paying taxes. People like
him have the same life expectancy of someone newly diagosed w/ AIDs; somehow this drug, which should have done it's job in 6-8 wks, makes him far more comfortable. For whatever reason he needs it. So I am keeping this man,
this tax paying man w/ prescription coverage, in samples. The drug rep is
taking on blue cross. Multiply that hassle by 3000 and you have my work
life. Love to all; bb

****

No links here, just the story.

Posted by shamanic at 11:51 AM

December 17, 2003

Another Moment of Celebration

Ah, perhaps I skipped this aspect of the moment of celebration earlier. According to this BBC report, a lot of information might come out at a Saddam trial. Information implicating US and European companies which sold weapons materials to the Iraqi dictator.

"On February 9, 1994, [Senate Banking Committee] Chairman Donald W. Riegle, Jr. disclosed on the U.S. Senate floor that the U.S. government actually licensed the export of deadly microorganisms to Iraq. It was later learned that these microorganisms exported by the United States were identical to those the United Nations inspectors found and recovered from the Iraqi biological warfare program."

The American public does not, and apparently prefers not to, pay attention to the activities that our democratically elected government engages in. An individual such as Saddam Hussein does not arise from a vaccuum. Many, many hands have stirred this pot.
Here's Donald Rumsfeld stirring away in 1983.

Michael Moore explains this in his typical satire soaked way in this piece, "We Finally Got Our Frankenstein."

He lays it out clearly: We supported Saddam because he stood up to Iran at a time when Iran had taken a hard turn towards anti-American religious fundamentalism.

Should the United States allow chemical, nuclear, and biological agents, or their precursors, to be sold to dictators who we know will use them against our enemies, and possibly others, too? Is this positive because it advances America's momentary foreign policy goals, or negative because IT'S EVIL?

I vote evil. George W. Bush certainly seems to share my view, feigning horror at the fact that this dictator gassed his own people. But then I come across this:

Project SHAD, Shipboard Hazard and Defense. During the Vietnam conflict, the Navy dropped poison gas on our ships in readiness tests. They did not get consent from the sailors as they lobbed small amounts of Sarin and VX nerve gas, among others. Not surprisingly, the vets are a little concerned about the long term health effects of such exposure and lobbied to get the government to cough up some information.

We gassed our own people. Three different administrations goverened the United States while we were gassing our own people.

We don't pay attention. We ought to pay attention. We need to pay attention. We make these dictators, we engage in much of the same behavior that they engage in, and then we have to deal with these dictators. If there is one lesson from Saddam (or Noriega, or Pinochet, or the Shah, or Charles Taylor, or Batista) it is that we shouldn't be propping up these dictators. This can only happen when the public pays attention and speaks up. Foreign aid must be deployed intelligently, but that will only happen when the American people are paying attention. We have to watch. We have to listen. We have to change things, or Afghanistan and Iraq will not be the last, but just another in a sequence.

What price stability? Often, it's too high.

Posted by shamanic at 12:11 PM

December 16, 2003

AIDS in Africa

For years, there has been debate about AIDS in Africa. This is a highly politicized discussion, obviously. In the 90's, conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh (I heard him say this at some point, circa 1994) were claiming that Africa had no AIDS crisis, it's just that doctors in Africa knew that AIDS brought in healthcare money, so everything from flu to cancer was diagnosed as AIDS.

Those dastardly Africans! Lying at every turn just to soak up some hard-earned western money!

Well, then the news broke that cemeteries in Africa were filling up. That a generation of children was being orphaned. That the continent was facing hugely destabalizing depopulation, and the conservatives suddenly shut up.

Oh wait, no they didn't. The line became: Those dastardly Africans! They can't control their impulses! Sexually promiscuous, backwards people, how sad! What a moral lesson for us good rich white Americans.

This article is completely fascinating. It is certain to open that discussion again. And it's probably a discussion that needs to be had, in light of the data presented. Does Africa have an AIDS crisis? Yes, the article says, but it isn't as bad as it's being sold as.

For those who care that human beings are dying and aren't just on the lookout for pickpockets or morality tales for us good rich white people, this is great news. If correct, it means that the money we're applying to AIDS in Africa may have vastly more benefit than expected. It means that prevention programs might be the single biggest weapon in the fight right now, and not just five years ago. It means there may still be time. Enjoy.

Posted by shamanic at 2:47 PM

December 15, 2003

RepubliCard

Apparently this is circulating, and I thought it was pretty freakin' funny.

Posted by shamanic at 5:21 PM

Hussein's Capture

If I could briefly part ways with my friends on the left, I just want to take a moment and savor the capture of one of our time's greatest mass murderers. Saddam Hussein is the kind of person who authorizes mustard gas to be dropped on villages in his own country. He's the kind of person who orders doctors to cut off the ears of those who have fallen out of favor with him, without anaesthesia. He's the kind of person who kills the doctors who refuse to do this.

He created a nightmare police state and propped it up for 23 years with fear, cash, and ruthless calculation. Americans have a reason to celebrate: our country has finally created a precedent for knocking down regimes like this.

Politically, it has been done badly. Bush's lies are well documented on the internet and everywhere else. The WMD issue indicates that there is a dizzying problem with intelligence, either at its collection point or in how it is used and conveyed to the president, or both. Our allies have been thoroughly alienated at every turn, and with the EU expanding annually and attempting to integrate further at every turn, America runs the risk in the long term of isolating itself out of everything but economic discussions. But then there is the Kyoto Protocol, which the Russians may yet end up ratifying, thereby causing it to go into effect globally.

Would Europe and Asia gradually move towards a punitive stance with the United States when it comes to pollution?

My country's armed forces did a tremendous thing yesterday, dragging a viscious, brutal, pompous coward out of a rat hole and arresting him. He will likely be tried for war crimes (dropping chemical weapons on the Iranians comes to mind) and genocide (Kurds, Shi'ite, aw hell, this guy may have killed a million of his own people!). In this moment of celebration, I have to ask where we are as a result.

Are we going to pursue other dictators? For instance, is President Bush going to use the propaganda machine that brought us to Iraq to encourage Americans to quit driving hulking gas guzzlers? Will he twist arms in Congress to raise fuel efficiency standards the way he twisted arms in Congress to pass a hugely expensive and topically silly prescription drug benefit? This would punish Saudi Arabia, which according the the CIA World Factbook, has no elections and no sufferage. None.

But they can bid for Iraqi reconstruction efforts.

Using the bully pulpit of the presidency to encourage fuel efficiency and intelligent consumerism would punish Kuwait, which has 60 square kilometers of irrigated land (seriously, read the link) in the entire country, and:

"Suffrage: adult males who have been naturalized for 30 years or more or have resided in Kuwait since before 1920 and their male descendants at age 21
note: only 10% of all citizens are eligible to vote; in 1996, naturalized citizens who do not meet the pre-1920 qualification but have been naturalized for 30 years were eligible to vote for the first time"

This is our ally in the war on terrorism? This is a country that we liberated over a decade ago, and they haven't gotten around to allowing more than 10% of their country to participate in government?

In 1991, I thought that George H. W. Bush was going to do the right thing following the war and announce a great initiative to investigate, produce, and promote alternative fuel sources. I thought that the 1991 war would have made the point that we can no longer trust these maniacs who have 60 square kilometers of farmland but hundreds or thousands of oil wells to detonate.

I was wrong. I know that George W. Bush isn't about to begin a campaign of global liberation, because I know that George W. Bush doesn't care if the rest of the world is democratic or not, just so long as they don't mess with us and can provide an easy target when political troubles arise for a sitting president.

Still, for a little while after seeing the news yesterday, I was able to dream of living in a country that called the free nations of the world to the great struggle of liberating mankind from the chains of dictatorships, of freeing all of us from the fear of the kind of war that can only be started by madmen. I was able to imagine what America would be like if we had a leader in charge, someone who could sit down with our allies and lay out a vision that they couldn't help but support, if not with troops then with moral voices to help a true coalition go forward.

Well anyway, it was a nice fantasy.

Posted by shamanic at 1:26 PM

December 11, 2003

Iraqi Reconstruction: More Than a Swindle

So Paul Wolfowitz released the big list of countries who are eligible to bid for Iraqi reconstruction efforts. Bush immediately set to work defending it. Here's a run down of the countries who will be soaking up the $18.6 billion US taxpayer dollars (with helpful linked maps to help you locate the less-well-known ones): Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Oman, Palau, Panama, Phillippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, Tonga, Turkey, UAE, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan.

Well, it looks like if you're a former Soviet republic or a smattering of south Pacific islands, you're making out like a bandit here. Oh, or Halliburton. Which likely provided the pretty not-for-eating turkey that Bush so famously held during his Baghdad Thanksgiving trip. Wonder how much that cost us.

I'm sorry, is that Saudi Arabia I see on that list? Didn't 19 Saudis hijack four airplanes and kill three thousand Americans on a sunny Tuesday morning two years ago?

The administration is playing hardball with France and Russia, both of whom are owed billions by Iraq. "[The White House] said it was 'appropriate and reasonable' to limit the opponents of the war to bidding for sub-contracts while countries that backed the war such as Britain, Spain and Poland had a chance to reap the benefits.

"'The United States and coalition countries, as well as others that are contributing forces to the efforts there...are the ones that have been helping and sacrificing to build a free and prosperous nation for the Iraqi people,' said White House spokesman Scott McClellan."

The real reason: The US would like France and Russia forgive the Iraqi debts owed to them. Under international law, an occupying nation becomes responsible for the debt of the occupied nation, so if they don't forgive the debt the United States will be shelling out the cash.

Enter James Baker, the Bush family "fixer". According to the article: "Baker is a lawyer-politician who is a former White House Chief of Staff, Treasury Secretary, Secretary of State and various other things. He is a trusted friend of the Bush family and has been called up before in times of political need. He ran Bush Senior’s presidential campaigns and was President George W Bush’s man in Florida during the recount in 2000.

"Baker is now a senior partner in the law firm of Baker Botts, which is deeply involved in the fight for the oil and gas of the Caspian Sea and is senior counselor to the powerful investment firm the Carlyle Group. On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Baker was reportedly at a Carlyle investor conference with members of the bin Laden family in the Ritz Carlton in Washington D.C. And his law firm Baker Botts is defending the Saudi government in a lawsuit filed by the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks."

Clean hands? Makes you wonder why anyone gets into government at all. Oh right, all the money they make after they leave.

My question: If Bush had approached France, Germany, and Russia prior to the war and guaranteed that in the event of war, their investments would be secure and they would be able to bid for contracts, wouldn't it have been easier to get them on board? Doesn't our current approach further alienate our friends and make us look even more like the arrogant pricks we've been looking like for the last three years?

Not to mention that we'll be paying nations with less than sterling human rights records a good bit of money to do things that would probably be done more cheaply by France and Germany, who by all accounts are modern liberal democracies.

Posted by shamanic at 2:55 PM

December 10, 2003

From the Des Moines Register

I'm going to quote this entirely, it's too good to miss:

If you believed the campaign rhetoric, the raison d'tre of the Republican Party was to shrink the federal government. But with the GOP in full control of both the White House and Congress, the government is growing faster than ever.

So maybe we can stop having the tiresome argument over Big Government vs. Small Government. The Republicans have shown themselves to be no different from the Democrats on that score.

The argument was always a little off-point anyway. The size of the government matters, but not as much as something else - whose side the government is on. Does it work for the general public or the favored few?

Government didn't get big in a vacuum. It grew in part because people needed something big on their side to counterbalance other big things that didn't necessarily have their best interests at heart.

Government started to grow in the age of the robber barons when people demanded an ICC to protect them from being gouged by the railroad monopolies. Then came such things as antitrust laws, banking regulations, a progressive income tax, wage and hour laws and a whole bunch of things with initials such as FDA, FTC, FDIC, SEC, EPA - all intended to look out for the interests of ordinary Americans who, as individuals, were powerless against big guys who might be tempted to gouge them, cheat them, underpay them, overwork them or pollute their environment.

People wanted a strong government on their side.

It took a while, but the big guys eventually figured out a way to fight back. They began pushing the philosophy of small government. If the government were smaller, it would bother the big guys a lot less.

The movement was couched in terms such as "deregulation" and "getting government off our backs" and "cutting taxes." It has had great success. The IRS has been made so toothless that it has virtually stopped auditing the tax returns of the big guys. The SEC is so anemic that it was snoozing while corporations and Wall Street insiders were ripping off ordinary Americans for billions. And on and on.

Here's the interesting twist: The small-government advocates ended up in full charge of the government - yet it keeps growing. Perhaps they discovered they really didn't want a small government. They just wanted a government they could co-opt. Such a government doesn't get in their hair and can be milked for billions in subsidies.

So ordinary Americans now, arguably, have the worst of both worlds. They have a big government that has been taken over by the very same big guys the government was originally enlarged to protect them against.

That's one way of looking at things, anyway.

And, in varying degrees, it is essentially the interpretation of events being offered by the Democratic presidential contenders.

That's what front-runner Howard Dean's slogan - "take America back" - is all about.

If that interpretation continues to resonate, the Democratic mantra of "It's the economy, stupid" may be replaced by "Hey, stupid, whose side should the government be on?"

Posted by shamanic at 12:36 PM

Debate Recap (Hey, I Didn't Watch It Either)

I don't have a television, so I went to Decatur's Thinking Man Tavern last night, assuming that along with my weekly trivia loss, I could at least catch some of the closed captioning for the final debate. It's called the Thinking Man Tavern after all. On their two television screens: Comedy Central and Basketball which switched at some point to a Peanuts Christmas Special.

The food sucked last night, too, so that's about all I have to say about the Thinking Man today....

So here's a debate recap, from the web. I really like William Saletan's writing. He's curmudgeonly, pointed, sometimes even silly, but mostly he has no patience for crap and I dig it. So read and enjoy.

The Washington Post has a nice long piece about the process that led Ted Koppel to apparently go crazy in the format style. Koppel's a weird one, but that's just my opinion. Maybe too long in the biz.

NYT has this, a run-down of how the candidates tried to downplay the importance of the Gore endorsement without offending Gore supporters across the country. Politics is a hard business, man!

Don't take my word for it; the NYT also has the text of the debate. Good of them....

Posted by shamanic at 12:32 PM

Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo

I don't know if you've ever heard of Josh Marshall, but he's a political columnist with a weekly piece in The Hill, the congressional weekly, who also runs a really excellent blog called Talking Points Memo. He's provided thoughtful analysis of the primary race the whole way through, and while he's been pretty happy to see Clark in the race, he hasn't endorsed any one candidate.

Today Marshall is talking about the Iraq bidding process that bars France, Germany, and Russia from getting contracts, but he's also talking about the changed dynamics of the Democratic field following Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean yesterday.

Over on Slate, William Saletan takes a few shots at Al Gore, contrasting his endorsement with his support of letting voters decide the Florida 2000 election:

'Three years ago, Al Gore, trailing in the Florida recount, urged the nation to wait until all the votes were tallied. "There are some who would have us bring this election to the fastest conclusion possible. I have a different view," Gore pleaded.

'Gore's view was that the urge to unite and win must never shortcut the electorate's verdict. "What is at stake is more important than who wins the presidency," he argued. "What is at stake is the integrity of our democracy, making sure that the will of the American people is expressed and accurately received."

'That was then. This is now.'

I think that one can make the case that Gore is meddling, but one can also make the case that Gore is attempting to do what may be impossible: rebuild the democratic party into an effective wing of American ideology that contrasts with the false laissez faire, sort-of-free-market Republican ideology.

Here's my question: Does Gore's endorsement really matter so much? Scanning the headlines yesterday and today, one would think that Dean has already won the nomination, which is nice given my preference for Dean but premature given that Iowa is still five weeks away and even then, Iowa is the beginning, not the end. Well, okay, Iowa will be the end for some of the candidates, but it's entirely possible that Dean will be among them.

I spent some time yesterday on John Kerry's blog and found the bloggers there to be easily irritated. I was just asking questions, such as, "Did Kerry really write off the south, and what does that mean for me in the south? How am I supposed to support a candidate who's announced that the region where I live isn't on his agenda?" I feel for the Kerry campaign, I really do. I think John Kerry is a patriot and really a heroic American, but the only thing I can figure is that he voted for the Iraq war because his advisors told him it would help him in the campaign.

His supporters are very, very angry at Howard Dean, who they feel has been engaged in character assination with his assertion that the other democrats are "Bush-lite", but I've spent the last three years yelling at television screens: "Where's the opposition??? Where are the democrats???"

I understand what Dean's saying.

Posted by shamanic at 11:33 AM

December 9, 2003

Bush Opposes Taiwan Referendum

In a weird move, George Bush today met with Chinese Premiere Wen Jiabao and denounced a planned Taiwanese referendum on indepedence, stating: "We oppose any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo. And the comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally, to change the status quo, which we oppose."

Well, it's about time that the administration opposed unilateralism and started supporting relatively stable status quos. Too bad they couldn't come up with this rather simple formula in, oh, say March 2003.

Oh well, I'm sure that families of the 449 Americans killed to date in Iraq understand the need to have flexible policies in foreign affairs.

Posted by shamanic at 2:41 PM

Shilling for Dean

So here's a great couple of columns from the Washington Post, a tandem assignment on Howard Dean from the right and the left:

Bill Kristol kicks it off with "How Dean Could Win....", followed by EJ Dionne with "Who Can Stop Dean?".

I would add this question: "Why stop Dean?"

Incidentally, as mentioned in a comment below, Loretta Sanchez of California's 47th district has just endorsed Gov. Dean. If you may recall, she is the latina former Republican who kicked the crap out of Bob Dornan a few years back, leaving him whining about illegals stealing his election. And then two years later, she beat him again.

As requested, here's Michael Moore's letter to President Bush, Turkeys on the Moon. "You'll have so much fun up there [on the moon]; you might not want to come back. Better take Cheney with you, too. Pretend it's a medical experiment or something. 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for every American who's sick and tired of all this crap.'"

Posted by shamanic at 2:33 PM

Gore Endorses Dean

Ah, so rewarding to have finally picked a candidate that I can support enthusiastically and is leading. Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean in New York this morning, saying, "...Howard Dean really is the only candidate who has been able to inspire at the grassroots level all over this country the kind of passion and enthusiasm for democracy and change and transformation of America that we need in this country. We need to remake the Democratic Party; we need to remake America; we need to take it back on behalf of the people of this country. So I'm very proud and honored to endorse Howard Dean to be the next president of the United States of America."

Gore called for an end to the bloodletting between the Democratic candidates, invoking none other than Ronald Reagan: "Years ago, former president Ronald Reagan said in the Republican Party that there ought to be an 11th commandment, speak no ill of another Republican. We're Democrats and we may not find that kind of commandment as accessible, but to the extent that we can recognize the stakes in America today, I would urge all of the other candidates and campaigns to keep their eyes on the prize."

If your computer is wired for video, click here.

So, why did Gore endorse a candidate at this juncture? And why did Gore endorse Dean over others, including fellow southerner Wesley Clark?

Well, for one, Clark is still reportedly pretty shaky on the campaign trail. For another, Clark has announced that the way to win back the south is to ban flag burning.:

"Students who attended the Kirkland event were surprised when—without prompting—Clark mentioned his support for a proposed constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning.

"Clark conceded that his position likely put him at odds with most audience members, but he insisted that the stance was necessary if the Democratic Party hopes to reverse its losses in Southern states.

"'It’s not about the Confederate flag down there. It’s about the American flag. And our party has to be smart enough to understand that,' he said."

I think that the biggest draw for Gore, and others in the party, frankly, is Dean's announcement that he will be targeting congressional races and directing his supporters to finance not just his campaign, but 20 or so legislative races. Rep. Leonard Boswell of Iowa raked in $50,000 in the first 24 hours after Dean announced his support, and there are rumors of a January special election race that Dean will be meddling in.

Why did Gore endorse Dean? Because Dean has the most potential to lead the Democratic party back to majority status. Dean could turn one house of congress in the 2004 election, even if he himself loses. His network, being constructed from the bottom up, could then be activated in 2006 to enlarge the gains and shrink Republican control in the second legislative house. Gore endorsed Dean because Dean has grabbed control of the helm of the Democratic Party and he's actually steering it, a very exciting advance in the modern history of the Democratic Party.

Posted by shamanic at 12:55 PM

December 8, 2003

Monday's News

Oh, lots of stuff out today, none of it extremely interesting. Sorry for the weekend absense, I was out of town.

George Will gets intellectual on Howard Dean in the Washington Post today.

Will says, "[Dean] is the candidate of America's professoriate and others whose strongest passion is as much aesthetic as political -- intellectual contempt for George W. Bush. But Dean's bantam-rooster pugnacity is not unlike Bush's shoulders-squared jauntiness, which critics consider an enraging swagger. Bush's imperturbable certitude infuriates Dean's supporters because they believe it arises not from reflection but from reflex. Actually, Dean really resembles his supporters' idea of Bush."

This is valid. Still, I think there is some intellectual activity occuring in the balding brain of Howard Dean. And a thought-to-thought comparison between the Dr/Gov and our sitting president would likely reveal more and better quality thoughts within the Dr/Gov's head. But that's all theoretical.

The Post also talks about the emerging Dean "Southern Strategy" which apparently is to call Republicans divisive (on race, gender, religion, etc., etc.) and then talk non-stop about, oh, what's the word.... oh yes, issues. Education. Healthcare. Can this work in the south?

As a southerner, let me express my skepticism, but let me also say it's a good start if the Dems are to become (in Zell Miller's now famous parlance) a national party again.

In the New York Times, Bob Herbert editorializes on Medicare reform, calling the package to be signed by President Bush today, "the first cold drafts of bitter reality to the G.O.P.'s long dream of dismantling Medicare as we've known it."

Is this accurate? I'm having trouble believing at this point that the Republican party actually stands for anything at all. I thought they were the party of fiscal responsibility and playing by the rules, but the activities of the last three years and especially the last three weeks have left me deeply skeptical about assertions by Paul Krugman and others that there is a larger ideological agenda at work. I think the larger ideological agenda involves November 2004 and ends there, and that most Republicans, like most Democrats, will say and do anything to aquire and retain power, deficits be damned.

The Times also has a piece on Joe Lieberman, who is running for president (you may have heard something about this at some point, but then again it appears not to have registered with very many people).

Basically a bio piece, it of course paints a pretty nice picture of someone whom everyone seems to agree is a very good person. Here's one quote that I find terribly interesting given our current leadership: "He was a reader of history. The stories that impressed him most were the stories of leaders like Winston Churchill, who, as he put it recently, 'saw the evil of fascism and Nazism and rallied the world to stop it,' and Harry S. Truman, 'who saw the outbreak of Communism for what it was and was instrumental in creating NATO and keeping America strong to push back Communism.'"

What's that? Leader rally the world to stop evil? That's so, like, old school, Joe. Everybody knows that Leaders stop evil singlehandedly and often beat the crap out of the their friends just to prove how bad ass they are. Oh well, don't worry folks. It's not as though Joe Lieberman with his internationalist ways is likely to be president any time soon, but he is, it turns out, running.

Ah, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. A liberal who sees in George W. Bush a lot to (kind of) like. I really enjoy reading Friedman because he is ardently not a Bush hater, so his analysis is refreshingly clear-minded. He has applauded "Bush's liberal war" to free the Iraqis from Saddam-era conditions and he frequently makes a good case for lightening up on the President.
This piece continues Friedman's analysis of Bush as a president who is increasingly revolutionary and liberal in his foreign policy stances. I usually hope that Friedman is right, and I almost always think that Friedman's is a voice that should be given greater prominence. He's a smart writer with a real fairness streak in his commentary.

Posted by shamanic at 12:00 PM

December 4, 2003

Howard Dean Meetup

Last night I attended Howard Dean's MeetUp at Ashton's in Decatur, GA. We were lucky enough to be part of a southern-states conference call that the Governor took part in, and I was happy to have two friends come out who hadn't been there before.

Dean has had some issues in the last few days with documents from his time as Governor of Vermont that he has sealed. Richard Cohen of the Washington Post gives an overview of the problems with this, namely that Dean has stashed a lot of documents for 10 years, his off-the-cuff response being that when Bush "opens his, I'll open mine."

Bush is now claiming to have his records open, which is likely a lie. I say likely because much of what comes out of the Bush administration is a lie, but also because according to Dean's answer to a question about these documents last night, Bush in fact has not opened his papers. Dean says that Bush's papers are in the possession of the Attorney General of Texas, and while many of the originally sealed papers are now public, they can be viewed only at the discretion of the AG.

And for the record, Dean didn't hesitate to answer that question about the documents. He jumped right in with the "There are communications from advisors who would not have given advice had they known they would be public sooner rather than later," which is a valid, if political answer. More interestingly, he said something like, "There are people who aren't portrayed in a flattering light," later in his list of reasons, which is almost certainly true, and which is almost certainly the real reason to keep the documents private. Think about it: Dean was Governor during the Clinton years and Dean was forced by the courts to deal with the Civil Unions issue. I can only imagine what colorful phrases Dean uses in working through the Civil Unions issue, and I delight in imagining what might have been written down internally about any number of Clinton-era scandals.

They would make good reading, I'm sure, but not so much during a political campaign.

Molly Ivins, by the way, endorses the Governor today, saying that he's the only one who can win. This is shaping up, as many have commented, to be a race of base against base, and Dean seems to be the only one who can energize the Dem base enough to get throngs of people to the polls.

Also, as John Kerry said, Dean is a "balanced budget freak". The republicans are hoping to register millions of new voters, but I'm wondering if that might backfire for them if the Dems nominate someone with a demonstrated penchant for fiscal discipline.

I think Dean is capable of getting at least five million people who've never voted before out to vote. I say that before the Karl Rove smear engine has kicked in, but based on the growth of the MeetUps and the excessive energy of Dean's army of bloggers, what I'm seeing makes me cautiously optimistic that the upcoming election will be about ideas: What does America stand for? Where do we want to go from here?

Posted by shamanic at 12:10 PM

December 3, 2003

Gephard Threatening Labor?

Here's an odd story from the Washington Post. Two labor leaders are accusing a long-time Gephard aide of threatening to lobby for reversal of the Missouri executive order that allowed state workers collective bargaining rights. Those two labor leaders respectively head the SEIU and the AFSCME, who represent about three million state and municipal employees nationwide.

Those are also the two largest unions to endorse Howard Dean, which was seen as a big blow to the Gephard campaign. So what's going on here? Are Gephard's people playing politics, or are the union leaders?

Posted by shamanic at 6:47 PM

George Bush Abroad, Conservatism at Home, and Presidents at Funerals

Over at Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria gives us this disturbing column about George Bush in the world. Zakaria claims that China's president is better received around the world than hyper-secure, constantly jeered, and publically avoidant George W. Bush. If he's right, then democracy has a problem that no containment policy can solve. Looking at the post-WWII period of American democracy, and now, Zakaria says, "We have fallen far from that model if the head of the Chinese Communist Party is seen as presenting the world with a more progressive agenda than the president of the world’s leading democracy." Amen.

Domestically, fiscal conservatives are understandably in a bit of a froth over what the "party of the responsibility" has been up to for the last three years. George Will has a few things to say about the 'evolution' of conservatism in America. Who knew that even the Republicans were socialists? Oh right, Michael Moore said as much in Dude, Where's My Country.

And finally a topic near and dear to my heart, Charles Krauthammer gives us an explanation of why Bush has yet to attend a single funeral of the Iraqi war dead. He makes a convincing case that it isn't about callousness or even being too busy raising funds, but rather the need to project strength in what is essentially a battle of wills. I hope that he's right, because with family in the service I have not been very thrilled with the cowboy act, while Bush turns around and pockets a couple of million dollars every few days for re-election.

Krauthammer does not deal with the relevance of the Iraq war in the context of the war on terror in this piece, though I'll do some looking and see what I can come up with from him.

Posted by shamanic at 2:26 PM

The Turkey That Went to Baghdad

I have to say, "Good job, President Bush." Your 5:30am Thanksgiving appearance in Baghdad was the right thing to do and I'm sure that all of our troops in the region appreciated the risks you took to join them for the holiday.

However, the claim that Air Force One was spotted by a British Airways pilot, who was then told the plane was a Gulfstream.... Probably not. From the administration that brought you, 'Bring 'em on, because American deaths are a sign of success,' and so much more fantasyland garbage, the media is having a hard time corroborating White House claims about the cloak and dagger, daring night flight to Baghdad.

It's this kind of thing that bothers me. Bush does a decent, good thing, but then faceless voices in the administration have to exaggerate everything until it isn't even decent and good. It's just a PR stunt. Happy Thanksgiving, troops. You all get to star in campaign commercials next year.

Posted by shamanic at 1:45 PM

Zogby Muddles Things Up Again

There's new Iowa polling data out today from the Zogby organization.

I don't know if you've been watching the Dem nomination race as closely as I have (okay, I know you haven't), but Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt have been running neck and neck for the past month or six weeks. Dean spent much of the summer with a comfortable lead in Iowa and later blasted to the front of the pack in New Hampshire, but Gephardt was able to close the gap in Iowa.

The new data puts Dean ahead 26-22%, with a margin of error of +-4.5 points. Yep, that translates to.... they're polling at the same rate. There's great data below the actual numbers as far as union households vs. non-union households, etc.

John Kerry rounds out the top three with 9%, which is pretty much par for the course for Kerry 2004.

Wesley Clark and Joseph Lieberman have both decided to skip Iowa officially, though Clark is running a stealth campaign there anyway, organizing phone banks and letter writing campaigns to (surprise) Dean supporters.

Who needs sports when there's an election looming?

Posted by shamanic at 12:49 PM

News Update

Alright, so here's the first (test) entry for SimianBrain, the Journal of the Eternally Confused.

The point: reading material. Why you should vote. Why you should care. How to organize your activism into change. We have a long road ahead of us.

Stop #1: Paul Krugman of the New York Times, 12-2-03, "Hack the Vote" Diebold voting machines, which Georgia uses, are especially problematic. I've contacted my representative, Denise Majette, about this issue repeatedly, and she seems to be hoping that I'll just go away.

Stop #2: EJ Dionne, Washington Post. "The Politics of Payoff" Bill Clinton was the center of a scandal when it was leaked that he allowed large campaign contributors to stay the night at the White House. I didn't like that one bit, but try this one on for size: George W. Bush has bankrupted the country by shifting wealth to the top one percent--who coincidentally have shifted much of that wealth back to George W. Bush and the Republican National Committee. Estate tax repeal, dividend tax repeal, ladies and gentlemen, we have a redistribution of wealth towards the top here. Oh I miss the days of those lame-o Clinton scandals. Child's play compared to what's happening here.

Stop #3: The incest of the public and the private. NYT reports on Thomas Scully, current administrator of Medicare, who has been hunting for a job for more than six months (many Americans can relate). The difference: Scully was a primary player in the recently passed Medicare reform bill who is caught in a bidding war between five law and equity firms. Okay, many Americans *can't* relate.

The story here is not Thomas Scully, who has probably behaved legally and even ethically (he made no secret of his job hunt while helping to construct a massive give-away to insurers). The story here is the ease with which people move from the public sector to the private sector and back again, and the conflicts that can create. See: Boeing, and then see sweetheart deals from Congress.

Okay, okay, it isn't all bad. Stop #4 takes us to the Howard Dean campaign. Yesterday, the campaign sent out a request for help from its 500,000+ members, but not to help Dean. Get ready to smile here. Dean's campaign is asking its members to support congressman Leonard Boswell of Iowa, the only Democrat in the Iowa delegation. Dean is asking people to contribute money, volunteer, or help out however they can, claiming that Karl Rove is targeting Boswell's seat from Washington.

As a left-leaning independent, I have been particularly disgusted by the democratic party's ability to lose perfectly good elections. Howard Dean doesn't seem interested in following that pattern. If he keeps this up, winning the White House won't even matter so much, he may just return a house or two of congress to the Democrats.

Posted by shamanic at 10:42 AM


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"An odd point of view to say the least."
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Typing loudly from Atlanta, GA, since 2003.
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